Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) today introduced legislation to shield farmworkers from deportation and put them on a path to earned legal status and eventual citizenship.
Under the Agricultural Worker Program Act, farmworkers who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days in each of the past two years may earn lawful “blue card” status. Farmworkers who maintain blue card status for the next three or five years, depending on the total hours worked in agriculture, would be eligible to adjust to a green card or legal permanent residency.
“Everywhere I travel in California, I hear from farmers, growers, and producers from all industries—wine, citrus, fruit and tree nuts, dairy — that there aren’t enough workers,” said Feinstein. “Farm labor is performed almost exclusively by undocumented immigrants — a fact that should surprise no one. By protecting farmworkers from deportation, our bill achieves two goals — ensuring that hardworking immigrants don’t live in fear and California’s agriculture industry has the workforce it needs to thrive.”
The Agricultural Worker Program Act of 2017 was hailed by the President and CEO of one of the largest specialty crop associations in the nation, Tom Nassif of Western Growers.
“With the introduction of immigration legislation, the Senate elevates an issue often overlooked in the immigration reform debate: Retention of the existing agricultural workforce,” Nassif said. “To reform our broken immigration system, Congress must pass bipartisan solutions that acknowledge the contributions and value of current farmworkers while also creating a workable program to enable the future flow of labor to American farms. One without the other will not work.”
The time for action is now, Nassif emphasized.
“We are hopeful that those members of the legislature that are working on agricultural immigration legislation accelerate the process because time is definitely of the essence and our labor situation has reached a critical stage,” he said.
According to a press release from Feinstein, the Agricultural Worker Program Act is supported by about 50 labor and other organizations across the country.